February 25, 2008

Fusion and expected power generation trends

Vincent Page, technology officer at GE, wrote a good paper in 2005 about the economics and timeline towards moving to fusion power

He had three fusion concepts in a chart which I will extend

Time to Small Cost to Achieve Large scale chance
Concept Description Scale net energy Net Energy after small success Funded?

Bussard IEC Fusion 3-5 years $200 million 90% Y, $2m
My intro to Bussard fusion and update on prototype work

Tri-alpha Energy aka 8 years $75 million 60% Y, $50m
Colliding Beam fusion aka
Field Reversed Configuration
My review of the academic research before the funded stealth project

General Fusion aka 3-6 years $10-30 million 60% Y, $2m
Magnetized target fusion
Steam generated shock wave into spinning liquid metal

Plasma Focus 6 years $18 million 80% Y, $1.7m
Focus fusion website
Focus fusion US patent application
Working on a funded experiment with Chile 2006-2010

Multi-pole Ion beam
version of Bussard IEC 3-5 years $200 million 90% N
FP generation MIX IEC fusion

Koloc Spherical Plasma 10 years $25 million 80% N (self)
Attempt to create stable ball lightning plasma balls
In 2004, trying to generate 30-40cm plasma spheres

IEC bussard fusion can be estimated to cost $200 million for the first 100MW system.
IEC bussard fusion should scales well to 1-10GW sizes.
General Fusion has discussed $50 million devices for generating 100MW.
Focus fusion has talked about 20MW reactors for $500,000 and 1/20th of cent per kwh.

I expect that over the next couple of months there will be more positive test results from the WB-7 IEC prototype reactor. I think that the IEC bussard fusion multi-pole variant (from a researcher who previously worked with Bussard on his reactor) will then also get funded. I think some of the projects with minimal funding will get more support as other countries and companies step into the alternative nuclear fusion power generation race.

The tweaks to the IEC fusion system are to increase ion and electron densities (from the multi-pole (MIX) site:

With higher densities, electrons and ions can arrange themselves in alternating layers of positive and negative charge, forming "virtual electrodes" that can result in yet higher densities of ions at the center of the machine, and a trapped ion population that never intersects any material structure. Evidence for this effect has previously been observed in operating IEC machine.

The addition of a small radio frequency modulation of the cathode voltage will drive trapped ions to converge simultaneously at megahertz rates in the very center of the machine at high energies, provided a harmonic electric potential can be maintained inside the cathode, an effect called POPS (Periodically Oscillating Plasma Sphere) that has been documented in previous IEC experiments.

Pulsed operation will potentially raise the fusion rate still further.

We have plans to extract ions which have developed non-ideal orbits at low energy, thus substantially increasing the energy confinement time and further raising efficiency.

Older power generation systems and projects will not be abandoned. It would still take a long time to replace the old power even if nuclear fusion has a breakthrough. Plus the new fusion power systems will need to gather several years of operating record so that people know exactly what their cost and safety record is. Fission systems such as the Hyperion Uranium Hydride system (nuclear battery) would still have a niche helping generate power for enhance oil shale and oil sand recovery during a transition phase which could last two or three decades.

Increased funding could accelerate these projects by 1-3 years. For the IEC fusion systems net energy production systems are basically full scale commercial systems.

DOE central power analysis


Lobo7922 said...

So, do you think multipole is more likely to succeed?

bw said...

I do not see why the other group would not try similar or the same techniques to boost energy generation.

M Simon talks about POPS and RF supply in this article

I think that there should be many groups in many countrie trying to succeed once it becomes apparent that success is possible. I think there are many groups of scientists that do want to step in and try but that funding is an issue. Even getting the first one funded had a long delay as we know. However, the more promising the new prototype results are then the easier it will be for others to get funded. The technology is not that complicated or that relatively expensive.

$20 million would be enough for ten different sets of magnet, RF and other variations for $2 million prototypes. $200 million for the one that a team likes the most to scale up. All for about one year of ITER membership.

It makes to me that if more people believe the basic results and theory then billions should be chasing this dozens of the hundreds of variations could be sufficiently successful. Just like there are many flavors of nuclear fission plants.

If it becomes less of a question of will they come close to working to how well will they work or we are 1000 times closer and just need to find the right tweeks to get us the next ten fold improvement then there should be a competitive rush.

Lobo7922 said...

That perspective is really awesome, I hope it turns as you say :)

baley said...

unfortunately there is not enough investment in fusion research and only well proven techniques are researched as tokamaks and Inertial Fusion.

BrianFH said...

The Focus Fusion research is moving faster than expected, but could still use a small to moderate financial boost.

Your math is a bit off, though: "Focus fusion has talked about 20MW reactors for $500,000 and 1/20th of cent per kwh." Actually, it's about 0.2¢/kwh. Which is 1/5 of a cent, still about 1/40 of current costs for any other source, including fission.

And the reactors would be from 5-20GW, and costs from $200,000 to $500,000 each, depending on volumes and other variables. In any case, small fractions of the ~$1,000/KW cost of building other plant types.

FF is far closer to energy break-even than any of the other fission projects, including IEC. It has a ~40% energy-profit rate, not ~1%, and produces no (or very few) neutrons (hence no induced radioactivity and degrading equipment therefrom).

No contest, IMO.

bw said...

I did not do any math.

I took the costs estimates for the whole unit and for kwh from the focus fusion FAQ.

bw said...

I did not do any math.

I took the costs estimates for the whole unit and for kwh from the focus fusion FAQ.

bw said...

The permalink the specific part of the focus fusion FAQ

Brianfh: do you have more recent news about the progress of focus fusion ?

I have seen no news since Oct 2007

BrianFH said...

Re: CMEF, Eric responded, "This is based on years-out-of-date info. The $600 K never actually materialized, but LPP is again at the point where we think we will have $ in hand very soon. But this time we will not say we have it until the bank tells us we do."

The most recent news postings are:

The latter refers to this Discover report: (item #2).